Dana Larsen: VPD exploitation preceded officer's death

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      This is the third in a series of articles looking at the culture of sexual harassment and intimidation within Canadian police forces.

      Last year, a VPD officer committed suicide after waiting a year for her complaint against two senior officers to be heard. Meanwhile another officer suffering sexual harassment says police colleagues told her to "eat a gun."

      So far we've seen how sexual harassment is a common part of the job for women in police forces across Canada, with female officers being bombarded with porn, abuse, sexual come-ons and intimidation. The Vancouver Police Department also fits into this pattern, with dozens of members reporting systemic sexual and racial harassment, with tragic results.

      In January 2019, VPD Const. Nicole Chan committed suicide, one year after filing a complaint against two senior members. She was a nine-year veteran of the force. Two senior officers were both "in a relationship" with Chan, which she described in her diary as being "betrayed, coerced and taken advantage of by somebody whom I respected and looked up to".

      "There was a huge imbalance of power and I was severely depressed," wrote Chan. "I was honest with the department about my struggles and the person in power used this information to exploit and to manipulate me."

      Chan reported both relationships to the department in January 2018, about a year before her suicide. After repeated months of delays, an internal investigation was supposed to finally begin in February 2019, but the date was pushed back again before Chan's death.

      Nicole's sister, Jenn Chan, told CTV News how over a year of delays affected her.

      "The investigation was going on for so long, where it affected her daily life. And she kind of lost her sense of purpose, when she’s worked her whole life to become an officer and a good officer and now she doesn’t feel safe doing it."

      One of the officers resigned from the VPD after Chan's suicide, and the only penalty he received was a 15-day suspension entered into his service record. The other senior officer was fired by the VPD in January.

      Systemic sexual harassment

      CTV News claims that half a dozen current members of the VPD, both men and women, have come forward since Chan's suicide to claim there is systemic sexual harassment within the department. All said they were afraid of reprisals for speaking out openly.

      Their allegations are backed up by an internal VPD survey which found that at least 51 police officers and 18 civilian staff said they were subject to workplace harassment during 2017 or 2018.

      As reported in the Vancouver Courier, the total is likely much higher since the survey was only given to 30 percent of VPD staff. In the vast majority of cases, no formal complaint was made, because people felt nothing would happen and their career would be ruined.

      One female former VPD officer reported to CTV the same thing we've seen in police stations across Canada: a barrage of porn, graphic messages and propositioning for sex.

      "It was definitely superiors, sergeants, people in charge, people who were supposed to be mentoring me," she told CTV, keeping her name private for fear of retaliation.

      Chillingly, she said her police colleagues would often make "joking" comments that she should kill herself, like "Why don't you just eat your gun?"

      Did Const. Nicole Chan get the same advice from her VPD coworkers before her suicide?

      B.C.'s Police Complaint Commissioner decided not to hold a public hearing into Nicole Chan's death, saying it would not be in the public interest.

      My next column will look at more cases of severe harassment leading to police suicides, as well as reports of violent animal abuse and extreme sexual harassment in the RCMP's Musical Ride!

      Dana Larsen is an author, advocate, and activist for cannabis and drug policy reform. Follow him on Twitter @danalarsen. For anyone feeling distress in British Columbia, helpful resources include the Crisis Centre (604-872-3311), the 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) line, hospital emergency rooms, and medical doctors.